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The Art of Taking Unplanned Photos

Updated on June 25, 2013
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Unplanned photography takes at its core the assumption that although people might be aware of the photographer's presence they either ignore it or become accustomed to it. Astute photographers blend in and are never obtrusive or in the way; they are often "invisible".

Shooting what you see and without having any influence on the scene are the two main things that make for good candid photography as should be strive for at all times.

Un-posed photography by definition is an art where the shots are not posed, subjects are unassuming and nothing is planned. This style is often referred to as candid photography.

A SLR (35mm) camera and a short to medium lens is often the only things that are required. Notice that I did not mention the use of a flash. A flash discharge immediately draws attention and if you are not asking permission beforehand, then your subjects may not be that happy.

Fast film should be used in preparation of encountering low light situations, or if shooting inside. Using a flash would destroy the very essence of this style of photography. Photojournalism has often been compared to this style of photography, but the latter is meant for capturing images as opposed to photojournalism where the intent is to tell a story, usually to support a news story.

However, for the purposes of selling the images a photographer should always try to obtain a model's release if the subject is recognizable or at the very least, the photographer should inform the subject that photos were taken of him or her and for what purposes.

Most un-posed shots involve a subject doing something routine, like a carpenter carefully measuring a piece of wood completely unaware of the photographer's presence. A photographer should always avoid taking photos of the back of a subject, ask permission if you need to , explain why you are there.

This would often be just enough to gather a friendly nod of acceptance. Don't forget children, they will most of the time quickly become aware of the photographer and that photos are being taken, but will forget about you just as rapidly too. Capturing their expressions of surprise, joy and amazement can often be the best ever candid photos. Nothing beats a big smile in a kid's face.

Always be alert, you will rarely get a second opportunity to retake the shot. Your purpose is to capture the essence of the subject's actions, mood, emotions. When people are concentrated on their daily routine they are at ease, and this shows in the photo. Sometimes when your subject is posed they can become tense, specially if they were unprepared to have their photo taken.

If your subject becomes aware of your intention to photograph them and start to pose, then take the shot as quickly as possible to minimize the chance for them to get nervous and rigid, after all no one appreciates their photo being taken if they are not aware of how they look. These things can't be planned.

A simple time tested technique is to hold the camera at the hip, set it to auto-focus and just walk towards the subject. It seems sneaky, but keep in mind that you are trying to capture an image whose subject is not aware that you are taking such photo. Some candid photographs seem posed just because the subject is looking at the camera.

They are still candid if the shot is taken at the moment the subjects looks at you, if given time then most people can't help but pose for the camera. However this style of photography does not mean that the subject cannot be looking at you, it just means that the photo is not posed.

Like most, this type of photography can be planned too, I know this seems contrary to what the genre is, but good photographs can be taken at planned events such as weddings, birthdays, sporting events, celebrations etc.

Specialty lens are widely available from spy shops. These are regular lens which have a separate mirror inside the lens that allows you to aim the camera one way but take the shot from an opening at the side of the lens. Caution when using these, it is always much more ethical and safer to be honest and upfront than to get what you want through deception. Just image having to explain yourself if caught using one of these lenses.

Like photography? See more here

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    • profile image

      Norman 4 years ago

      - I heard about this from Randi Wood, I don't know if you would be interested in cmnoig to Tucson. We have 3 boys ages 8,6,4 and if one thing I can call our crazy little family is FUN! You can take a look at my boys at my blog and if you are interested we are VERY interested!! Just let me know!

    • profile image

      Yassin 4 years ago

      - I would love to be one of your fresh faces, but mine is a bit older. Jorge & I are still hoping you could do our BELOVED soesisn in July. Some with wedding dress & the rest to have fun. We could go to a bunch of cool spots & try out some techniques I've learned too. You still coming down in July?? Now its YOUR turn to experience July heat MIAMI style!! jajaajaaa

    • LuisEGonzalez profile image

      Luis E Gonzalez 5 years ago from Miami, Florida

      Millionaire Tips; Thanks for your comment. Posed shots can be great but candid ones truly capture the human spirit

    • Millionaire Tips profile image

      Shasta Matova 5 years ago from USA

      I prefer candid shots over professional studio shots because they are much more real and capture the people's personality and action. I took a whole bunch of them today! Thanks for the tips. Voted up.

    • LuisEGonzalez profile image

      Luis E Gonzalez 5 years ago from Miami, Florida

      jainismus & RhondaHumphreys1: Thank you both for your kind comments

    • RhondaHumphreys1 profile image

      Rhonda Humphreys 5 years ago from Michigan

      Candid make the best photos. thanks for the hub. Voted up and useful

    • jainismus profile image

      Mahaveer Sanglikar 5 years ago from Pune, India

      Thank you Sir, for sharing this information. I have shared it with my followers.

    • LuisEGonzalez profile image

      Luis E Gonzalez 6 years ago from Miami, Florida

      ArtAsLife: thank you, this is one of the easiest photo projects to undertake

    • ArtAsLife profile image

      ArtAsLife 6 years ago from Oregon, United States

      Love the writing very helpful, I did not know Candid is the name of the genre of pictures i love taking. Thanks for the info:)

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      Fay Paxton 6 years ago

      Thanks for the wonderful tips. I'm a newbie photographer

    • Alayne Fenasci profile image

      Alayne Fenasci 6 years ago from Louisiana

      Great hub! Thanks for the tips. The hardest part of blending in is having a big camera. This is a problem I have noticed especially with smaller family gatherings. Sometimes the pics I can snap with my 10 megapixel point-and-shoot are better than the ones I get with my DSLR, just because it's not obtrusive. It's not as high a quality photograph, but sometimes it's the only way to get the candids I'm looking for. With the big one, I might get a high quality image, but the picture's not what it could be because everyone is aware of it and nervous having it around. Some of your tips will help minimize that problem. Thanks!

      Candids of my toddler with the DSLR are not too hard. If she's not looking directly at the thing, she forgets about it. Same with the cat. Husband's not so easy.

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      Bethany Culpepper 6 years ago

      Candids are always the best! Thanks for the tips.

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      Dennis Thorgesen 6 years ago from Central United States

      I have always loved photography, never pursued it as a career though. To me candid has always been best. There is more reality in it than any other type of picture. I have seen beautiful work dating back to the early thirties.